Vivienne Malone-Mayes

By Robert F. Darden

First African-American professor at Baylor receives recognition

Pictured: Photo provided by Alex and Patsyanne Wheeler

The singular life and times of Dr. Vivienne Lucille Malone-Mayes, the first African-American professor at Baylor University, have been widely noted and only lately praised and honored. The mathematics department at Baylor has commissioned a 2-foot black marble bust and exhibition case to summarize her extraordinary accomplishments. A public dedication ceremony is scheduled for February 26 at 3:30 p.m. at Baylor in the Sid Richardson Building, third floor, with a reception following the dedication. Several Baylor publications have recently featured articles on her, each fueled by testimonials from the many students she touched and influenced.

And Malone-Mayes’ academic career and record is certainly worth celebrating. The second African-American woman to receive a Ph.D. in mathematics from the University of Texas, Malone-Mayes published widely during her career and served on the executive boards of national mathematics organizations.

There are other indicators of a life well spent, including a plaque outside the Baylor faculty dining hall and a tombstone in Waco’s Greenwood Cemetery that marks her too-soon passing at the age of 63 in 1995. Her daughter, Patsyanne Wheeler of Dallas, has a collection of the numerous awards and honors her mother received in her lifetime.

But Vivienne Malone-Mayes, the tall, regal, exacting math professor at Baylor, was also just as passionate about her church, the civil rights movement, the organizations she supported (and sometimes co-founded), and her wide circle of friends in Waco and beyond. The markers and memorials simply don’t have the space to do more than hint at the different aspects of her multifaceted life that are also equally worth celebrating.

Civil Rights

The great-grandchild of an enslaved couple who, despite the racism and Jim Crow laws of the era, managed to send most of their children to college and even own property and land, Malone-Mayes came from a long line of achievement-oriented people. She was especially close to her father, Pizarro Ray “P.R.” Malone, a mostly self-taught real estate agent with a facility for numbers. (Vivienne’s mother, Vera, taught in the then-segregated A.J. Moore High School.)

In one oral history interview, Malone-Mayes tells of her father’s horror decades later at being caught up in the fringes of the infamous torture-lynching of Jesse Washington in Waco’s downtown square in 1916. At one point, as the mob dragged Washington’s burned body down the street, it brushed up against P.R.’s wagon. Widespread circulation of the photographs of what became known as the “Waco Horror” were a catalyst in the public perception and ultimate repudiation of lynching — and the incident profoundly affected both Vivienne and her father.

(Wheeler said her mother never told her that particular story. “That’s chilling,” Wheeler told me. “I suspect there were many stories that she and Grandfather could have told me but didn’t.”)

Malone-Mayes attended the University of Texas after receiving her master’s degree in mathematics from Fisk University in Nashville and while teaching at Paul Quinn College. In Austin, she found a campus in the early stages of the nationwide civil rights movement. Her oral memoirs are filled with stories of the prejudice, mistreatment, petty cruelties and exclusion she faced and eventually overcame at UT. Despite the danger, both personally and academically, Malone-Mayes participated in the demonstrations against the restaurants, theaters and apartment complexes that discriminated against African-Americans.

In one incident, she recalled sitting in class as a group of “downtrodden” protestors marched outside the popular, but segregated, Hilsberg’s Café next to the UT campus. Students in the nearest dormitory harassed the demonstrators and played “Dixie” and “When the Saints Go Marching In” to drown out the protestors’ chants. After a few minutes, Malone-Mayes said, she had had enough and joined the demonstration:

“‘Now, wait a minute, come on! Let’s step with it. It may be their song, but it’s our beat.’ This perked up the whole group. Everybody began to pick up the step and started marching to the music. We were not going to let that song defeat us.”

One of her white classmates — and virtually all of Malone-Mayes’ classmates were white — grabbed a protest sign and joined the marchers. Other classmates declined. “This bravery came out then because I was older and had been through amazing experiences where I hadn’t been killed,” she said. “I expected any minute to be run down.”

African-Americans had also been working for justice and civil rights in Waco long before Dr. Martin Luther King brought the movement into America’s living rooms in the 1960s. Early local advocates included Richard D. Evans (Waco’s first black lawyer), Dr. J. Newton Jenkins, Henry Jones, George McGrue and Arthur Fred Joe. Many of the pastors of the African-American churches were also active, though often in a less public way.

Joe, who enjoyed a long career in the post office, was an officer with the local NAACP and organized many of the group’s direct action events, including the integration of the Waco Independent School District. Despite often minimal media coverage, African-Americans in Waco in the 1960s began to systemically target restaurants and stores that either denied service to blacks or refused to hire black workers. At the same time, the pastors, often led by the Rev. M.L. Cooper, the Rev. Marvin Griffin and the Rev. L. H. McCloney, would meet privately with Waco civic leaders Jack Kultgen, Paul Marable, Joe Ward and others to see if a quiet, nonviolent accommodation could be reached.

Sometimes, Joe recalled in his oral histories, the two-pronged attack worked quickly. The locally owned Elite Cafe, for instance, integrated after several such meetings — and the possibility of a noisy boycott. The Piccadilly Cafeteria’s out-of-town owners suffered through a day or two of protests before they too opened their doors to all people. Other restaurants across Waco, from the Black Angus to Sam Coates, soon followed.

For Malone-Mayes, as she neared the end of her doctorate at UT, the prospects of demonstrating held additional perils. Would any college, black or white, hire a black woman — no matter how qualified — if she participated in public demonstrations? Would the practice of her husband, Dr. James J. Mayes, one of Waco’s few African-American dentists, be negatively impacted? As she recalled in her oral history interviews, when the opportunity arose, she didn’t hesitate.

In the case of the 7-Eleven on Elm Street, Malone-Mayes arrived late at an NAACP meeting called by Joe, only to discover that she had been “volunteered” to be on the first picket line outside of the East Waco convenience store, which had refused to hire African-American clerks. Malone-Mayes joined a local beautician and Rev. M.L. Cooper on the first shift at 4 p.m. that day, carrying placards reading “Don’t Buy Where You Can’t Work” outside the 7-Eleven.

“Honestly, I was scared to death,” she recalled. “I just knew brothers would be coming from every direction. We would be dead within the hour. I didn’t know what to expect, so I called my people. I felt that they should at least know I was on my way.”

She first called her husband, who gave his blessing. Her father, who she had expected to try and dissuade her from marching, also said he supported her, which she said “shocked” her.

“I hadn’t been there 10 minutes before [my father] began to cruise around the block,” she recalled. “And every 15 minutes, I’d look up, and he’d be cruising around the block, making sure that nothing happened to his baby.”

Malone-Mayes’ small group was eventually replaced by a second team. According to Joe, Malone-Mayes became the demonstration organizer, coordinating the volunteers and their picketing schedules, two hours at a time, during the three months of protests. In his oral history interview, Joe whistles softly and says, “She did a hell of a job.”

Over the months of the picketing, drivers on Elm Street would occasionally shout racial slurs or threats and throw hot fluids or ice at the demonstrators, but Malone-Mayes said no one was ever injured. The 7-Eleven eventually closed and reopened with African-American clerks.

Malone-Mayes remained active in social justice organizations until the end of her life.

“I know Mom felt especially blessed coming from the environment she grew up in,” Wheeler said, “and she was taught at an early age the importance of giving back and not forgetting where you came from. For her generation, kids were prone to go to college and you do well [there], no matter where you go. And then you come back and contribute to the community and you take care of your family. With Mom’s generation, it was expected.”

New Hope Baptist Church

Wheeler, now retired and living in Dallas with her husband, Alex, told me that her mother’s long relationship with New Hope Baptist Church was one of “total satisfaction.” Malone-Mayes was active in the church from her childhood through her death, save for the few years in Nashville while attending Fisk University and while in Austin when attending UT.

“With her family, she put a lot into New Hope,” Wheeler said. “My mom was active from a choir and youth perspective especially.

“She was the kind [of person] who would go out into the neighborhoods across from New Hope, into the housing projects, and walk those apartments, door to door. For any child who wanted to be a part of what they were doing at New Hope, she would go and meet with that parent first. She would ask for their blessing first.”

In fact, Wheeler recalled, one of the few times she can remember her mother being visibly angry involved the children from the projects.

“Her voice only escalated if she really felt something was wrong,” Wheeler said. “At New Hope, when she felt like the children from the projects weren’t accepted by some church members in an activity, she’d let them have it.”

Malone-Mayes’ other love was music. She studied piano under famed local pianist Estella Maxey, learning both sacred and popular music styles. New Hope featured an ambitious choral music program, performing operettas and cantatas, often accompanied by a full orchestra. Among the “graduates” of New Hope’s music program was internationally known soloist Jules Bledsoe. While in high school, Malone-Mayes was the Sunday School pianist and became youth choir director in 1960.

“My mom played piano and organ and could pretty much pick up any tune just by hearing it,” Wheeler recalled. “She chose working with the youth. She felt like it was important to grab kids at a young age to help shape them, to give them direction.”

Concerned that young African-American boys ages 11-14 were at a “high risk” of not succeeding in life, Malone-Mayes also founded a popular boys “verse choir” at New Hope.

Organizations

Among the several organizations that Malone-Mayes either founded or was an original member of was The Links, Inc., chartered in 1974 by Dolly Adams. At the installation, Malone-Mayes and lifelong friend Beulah Barksdale were among the 10 initial members. The Waco Links has become an award-winning service organization of professional African-American women, promoting a host of activities, and has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars in local scholarships.

Upon graduation from Fisk, Malone-Mayes co-founded Circle-Lets in 1955, which has grown to become a national social club for African-American professional women.

“This was very important to her,” Wheeler said. “She wanted a way to stay in touch with other black professionals like herself with similar ideals. They wanted to touch base at least once a year, depending on the depth of the friendship. I think it made coming back home a little easier, too.”

Malone-Mayes had pledged the Delta Sigma Theta sorority at Fisk in 1950, and she remained active in the sorority her entire life. Her mother, Vera, and beloved aunt Jeffie Allen Conner organized the Waco alumnae chapter of the Deltas in Waco two years later.

“When it came for me to pledge in college,” Wheeler said, “there was never any question. I wasn’t going any other way. Same with me being raised Baptist — there never was any question of me looking at another religion.”

Professionally, Malone-Mayes became the first African-American to be elected to the executive committee of the Association for Women in Mathematics. She also served on the board of directors of the National Association of Mathematicians. But she was even more active in Waco, serving on the board of directors for the Family Counseling and Children Services, the Heart of Texas Region of Mental Health and Mental Retardation, and Goodwill Industries.

Ultimately, Vivienne Malone-Mayes, who spent much of her life set apart and sometimes ostracized, worked diligently to foster community.

“I think that’s part of why she was always so giving to people, so understanding of people,” Wheeler said. “Mom always took the side of the underdog — that was the kind of person she wanted to help, those who couldn’t stand up for themselves.

“I remember that it was very important for my mother to always entertain the African-American students at Baylor. She had dinners for them, she worked hard to make them feel welcome while they were away from their families. She said that that’s the way she always wanted for people to have treated me when I went away.”

No one has known Malone-Mayes longer than Beulah Barksdale, herself a civil rights pioneer as the first full-time African-American librarian in WISD. The two had been friends since kindergarten. For Barksdale, Malone-Mayes’ apparently inexhaustible drive came, in great part, from her parents. “From the beginning of her life,” Barksdale said, “they drove her. They intended for her to excel in everything.”

According to Barksdale, that inner drive even fueled Malone-Mayes’ groundbreaking career at Baylor.

“Once she had been turned down as a Baylor student, she intended to teach there. She was determined to do it.” To achieve that goal, Barksdale told me, Malone-Mayes “was willing to take most anything,” no matter how discouraging, no matter the odds, no matter the opposition.

In that, Malone-Mayes epitomized African-American achievement in the face of institutionalized racism everywhere.

“We all knew what we were going through,” Barksdale said softly. “We knew what Vivienne was going through. Every black person went through it. Whatever it took.”

Malone-Mayes was, then, another overachiever in a generation of overachievers.

“We had to be better than anybody else,” Barksdale said. “We had to be. We lived in two different worlds. We had to prove ourselves — always.”

And, in those accomplishments, Dr. Vivienne Malone-Mayes created a rich, vibrant community in the face of adversity.

It’s a wonderful legacy, and one well worth celebrating today.

Perhaps particularly today.

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